Why do all great things have to come to end? That was my thought this past year as a recurring quiet reflection because Linda and I never really wanted to talk about it. It made our last full-time year together hard for both of us because our eyes always watered up and we would try to find something easier to talk about knowing it was around the corner.
We knew the day was approaching as we watched the looming date and the Signature calendar race by, as our precious days quickly disappeared like an hour glass with sand slipping through the narrowest point. I have loved my partnership with Linda Howe since day one and consider it one of my greatest blessings, and hoped it would never end. I was her close friend and adopted family member; she was the Godmother to my daughter and the greatest recruiter LTC had ever seen – and she was my partner!
One thing I learned in 1998 was if Linda Howe was your partner, you would never ever be alone because she was tenacious, elegant, fierce, generous and dedicated like no one I had ever seen. For many of our female leaders she embodied the consummate example of class and excellence because she crashed the glass ceiling from the “mad men” era with ease, when it was a truly rare event to be a female senior executive decades ago. But she made everything look easy while carrying any personal trials or tribulations with rock-solid faith, like God was always with her.
How could she retire this young (told me she was the ‘new 50,’ but heck, who really knows, she was a recruiter) when the SHC revolution is just hitting stride? We just crossed midfield this week!
For almost 15 years, I had it all really – a great friend to confide in, a partner to cry with when we buried our Moms a few years apart. We stood side by side in prayer at each other’s weddings. She was a prayer partner to go to all the Holy Week church services with and a forgiving, non-judgmental friend who I could vent to when I was scared or hurt, or had to pick my owns crosses when life gave me painful curve balls you never want to face in the first place.
We traveled through 9/11 on the “Royal Care” purchase without watching a TV for two weeks in a hotel room to show the terrorists they could not stop the Revolution. From the dark days of PPS, when most chain organizations tanked in bankruptcies, it was a newly-decimated industry fighting for its life. We just went town to town, selling the dream of an LTC revolution when it was a brutal sell. We lived on the road for years, loaned money to Stakeholders, even drained our ATMs together to cover payroll in a prior company several times when we could not reach the owners. While I led our senior team through a 58-day bus trip, she dealt with a tragic resident passing a state away, and we talked daily. She won a union campaign as the best pinch-hit administrator, as a favor to me. With our teammates, we turned around 75 centers that were either falling apart from neglect, or on the watch list because of poor quality, or bankrupted by the previous owner. But we always showed up and worked the facility and the community one person at a time, promising a better day by restoring hope.
We moved from Kentucky together in the beginning to build one team that took us from laughing stock and last place to a respectable top 20 in half a decade, and she landed the majority of those amazing leaders. We went through a sale of the prior company to the new Signature company that we all helped found and start anew with greater hopes the Revolution would finally happen.
Three years ago, we moved the company 1,500 miles and rebuilt again with a team that may be the best I have ever seen assembled. We kept the heritage because we were grateful for all of our teammates but made discerning calls to raise the possibilities by building a rock star team. The sky is truly the limit, so today she can walk away from a 24/7 role knowing that the current SHC team will make us #1 in the country someday if God blesses our important work.
What I will miss the most is everything – even the few million conversations over a decade and a half discussing the potential journey of a candidate together who was searching for a better journey. We just wanted to see inside of their hearts before we ever said yes.
She will consult, advise and always be there for me and the Revolution. Our friendship will never be something we will ever take for granted, but it will be different. Sometimes the more we love something, the more it hurts when you can’t keep it 24/7 because God knows it’s time for Linda to nurture her grandchildren, return home to old friends, slow down and breathe a little.
And I understand, but I sure don’t have to like it, do I?
We wish Linda all the luck in the world and a heartfelt congratulations as the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in SHC history.
Prior to COVID, I think we all felt like we spent more time with work, work partners and peers than our own families. Was it good or bad? For me, I worked with some of the most talented people in the country, so I loved it. And obviously I love my family too! I had the blessing to work with a friend, brother, Savant, Mensa member, and so much more for nearly a decade and a half – Stephen Stocksdale. To say he was talented with an amazing range is honestly a great understatement in a world full of the opposite. Stephen did so much intellectually, professionally, and personally that for the first three years of working with him, I assumed it “all could not be true”. But time and time again I learned the opposite was true. He served our mission-based organization in every role (field leader, controller, administrator, VP, strategy, consultant, start-ups, etc.) and whatever else we asked of him. Despite having more professional success himself, he just wanted to help us grow in all ways.
One day 5 ½ years ago, Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we grieved with him as you would expect. But he was a determined guy and decided to not just learn all he could about cancer, but to master it. He decided there had to be a path he could carve out for himself that no doctor had considered, or he would locate new research that would help him beat it. With a scientific mind and unparalleled IQ, he found a clinical trial he was approved to get in. This trial’s treatment regimen was so potent, and Stephen was the only one that survived. He learned about transfusions, blood structures, and cancer interventions. Cancer kicked his ass often, but he always beat it back up and won again!
We cheered, prayed, and cried often over the past years, but learned three great lessons from Stephen that we all cherish today:
- “Be a Lifelong Learner” because we can always master new things and age is just a number, but lifelong learners never get old. Stephen mastered EMT services, police work, cancer research, hospital administration, heart transplant programs, high level statistical methods, travel, long term care, teaching, and many other degrees, certifications, and accomplishments over 65 years, so let’s all keep Learning and keep growing!
- “Never Give Up” because we grow everyone around us in our struggles and sufferings in ways that impact everyone around us and Stephen knew that and wanted us to get stronger, be more grateful and relearn presence, which we all did! When he came back home, he rarely missed a day at the office and taught all of us new things daily up until the moment he passed last week.
- “GOD IS SO REAL” Stephen had historical expertise on religions, studied theological premises, and had a metaphysical outlook, but in this battle, he felt like he met the Lord and had to share it with all of us. He knew he beat something that is nearly unbeatable, and he wanted time to share his story, his walk, and his private time with the Lord. He watched prayer groups with people he barely knew praying 24/7 that he receives a miracle, and he did receive one that he could share with all of us.
Our organization is going through a very painful time as a mid-size nursing home organization that has stakeholders who worked under unbelievable stress and pressure for so long and had to endure seeing some of our residents pass away. We have lost half of our team, and we are still trying to rebuild stronger and better. I think after serving through the pandemic for 2 ½ years and struggling with how to bring it all back together in this changing workplace and overworked healthcare system, and after suffering so much pulsating unknowns for so long, it was Stephen who gave us the best reason to not look back. He taught us to enjoy the struggle as something that can deepen us all and stay prayerful that God is with us during times like these. We need to rebuild and have new passion as learners, which Stephen demonstrated everyday making our lift just a little easier. And lastly, when you beat cancer four times and die from something else, how could we ever give up? It’s time for us to just “STOCKSDALE IT” and grow by learning, fighting harder and believing in our purpose!
Stephen’s office will remain untouched for now because when he left work on Monday with his ambitious assignments on his wall, we never knew we would not see him again. However, we can certainly feel his presence and we are all better people for his amazing lessons that he taught us until his last hour!